5 Things to Know Before Traveling to France
1. Watch the Signs
The French drive on the right-hand side of the road and some major road signs resemble those in North America. Stop signs say “STOP.” Remember that any measurements will use the metric system (France being its birthplace thus kilometers). There may be some that you don’t recognize but as a cyclist many of these won’t concern you anyway. Signs can be confusing sometimes when following road numbers; in that case, just stick to following the name of the town. Note: blue signs indicate auto routes – avoid that color! Red signs indicate national roads – avoid those too if they tell you how to get to a town. Yellow/white signs are smaller roads – so follow that color with the town name when in doubt.
2. Road Rules
Roads in France are generally well marked, paved and maintained. That said, the traffic you encounter can be horrendous if you happen to find yourself on the wrong road. As a cyclist you should make every effort to put yourself on the best cycling roads, even if they take you a little out of your way. Far better to take a little longer to get on a route that is safer and scenic. After all, you’re there to enjoy yourself!
Avoid all “A” (Autoroute / toll roads) and as much as possible all “N” (national highway) roads. “D” (departmental) roads are smaller and well suited to cyclists but look carefully at your map; some can be busy. Even smaller are “C” roads and “D” roads and their subsets like D213a, for example, which would be a branch of D213.
3. Garçon,..? Service?
Breakdowns happen. On a cycle trip of any considerable length, this is something that you may have to contend with. Even if you don’t end up snapping a chain or bending a derailleur out of shape, you may want a quick performance tune up while you stop to have lunch. Keep an eye out for the velociste or a magasin de vélo. Note that many bike shops also service motorcycles and mopeds or scooters.
4. Myriad Maps
The word cartography, the science or practice of drawing maps, comes from the French word carte (for map). As a cyclist you may be overwhelmed with your choice of maps — there are tons! Whichever ones you choose, be sure to go with a scale size of no more than 1:250,000. IGN, France’s equivalent of the UK’s Ordnance Survey, makes some really exceptional maps at 1:100,000 and 1:50,000 that are perfect for cyclists.
5. Lock It Up
Unless you plan on never letting your bike out of your sight, a top quality lock is an absolute must. Don’t skimp here on a cheap chain or wire lock. Spend the extra money and get something sturdy. Petty theft is rampant in France and an estimated 400,000 bicycles are stolen every year. Your shiny, unlocked bike won’t be sitting there very long if left unlocked and unattended.